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Letter Exchange 17: Mistakes of the Prophet (SAW)

The following Queries were mailed to us by a fellow visitor, student and seeker of truth. Below is an article-version of the email exchange.

  1. I understand the Shia believe that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not commit sins and did not commit mistakes. Can you please give me the interpretation for the following Quran verses which tell the Prophet (SAW) to ask for forgiveness for his (SAW) mistakes. Do such verses not contradict Quran [53:2]?
  2. The Quran states that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) could not read or write. Why do the shias believe differently?


Where there have been literary accounts of character assassination of the Prophet (SAW) by the Muslims themselves, including interpretations of many ayahs and events by Muslim scholars and historians, it is an absolute honor that we are chosen and asked to defend the honor and integrity of our master and mawla, Rasool (SAW).

Your question is genuine and sincere. The verses quoted in the question are;

So know that there is no god but Allah, and, ask protection for your fault and for
the believing men and the believing women; and Allah knows the place of your returning
and the place of your abiding.
Quran [47:19]

Therefore be patient; surely the promise of Allah is true; and ask protection for
your fault
and sing the praise of your Lord in the evening and the morning.
Quran [40:55]

Then celebrate the praise of your Lord, and ask His forgiveness; surely He is oftreturning (to mercy).
Quran [110:3]

All of these verses are instructing the Prophet (SAW) to ask for forgiveness as well. Why should a masoom prophet who does not sin or make mistakes, ask for forgiveness?

1. It can be argued that the verses quoted earlier which instruct the prophet (SAW) to ask for repentance from mistakes maybe be termed generic, and be applicable to yourself and myself as well and not specifically the prophet (SAW).

Let's see another verse.

O Prophet! when you divorce women, divorce them for~ their prescribed time, and calculate the number of the days prescribed, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, your Lord. Do not drive them out of their houses, nor should they themselves go forth, unless
they commit an open indecency; and these are the limits of Allah, and whoever goes beyond the limits of Allah, he indeed does injustice to his own soul. You do not know that Allah may after that bring about reunion.
Quran [65:1]

This verse is specifically addressing the prophet (SAW), yet the prophet (SAW) did not divorce any of his wives (RA). The tone of the Quran though addresses the prophet (SAW) at times, and sometimes directly the believers, the message is universal and applicable to you and me, until strictly told by the ayah or shariah of Muhammad (SAW) itself, for example;

O Prophet! surely We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given
their dowries, and those whom your right hand possesses out of those whom Allah has
given to you as prisoners of war, and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the
daughters of your paternal aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the
daughters of your maternal aunts who fled with you; and a believing woman if she gave
herself to the Prophet, if the Prophet desired to marry her-- specially for you, not for the
(rest of) believers;
We know what We have ordained for them concerning their wives and
those whom their right hands possess in order that no blame may attach to you; and Allah
is Forgiving, Merciful.
Quran [33:50]

2. Muhammad (SAW) is more than a human being. He (SAW) is a role model.

Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much.
Quran [33:21]

If my ideal, my role model, the prophet (SAW) never asked for repentance, how would I know what was the right way to ask for forgiveness, and Why would I ask for it when my role model did not?

3. How can the Prophet of Allah not do something what Allah loves the most?

 ..... surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those
who purify themselves.
Quran [2:222]

Regarding repentance, one of the sayings by Imam Ali (AS) as quoted in Saheefa e Kamila states;

Allah (SWT) is more pleased with the repentance of His servants than a person who found his lost camel in a waterless desert. In fact, Allah (SWT) loves to see the believer repent more than He hates to see him sin.

Therefore, the repentance of Muhammad (SAW) (an act of worship) was more due to the fact of the grace and blessing of Allah on him (SAW) rather than the mistakes and sins (god forbids) many muslims like to imagine the prophet (SAW) committed.

Having said that, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was a human being and thus prone to make mistakes or sin, except if Allah protected him (SAW) from it.

What! is it a wonder to the people that We revealed to a man from among
, saying: Warn the people and give good news to those who believe that theirs
is a footing of firmness with their Lord. The unbelievers say: This is most surely a
manifest enchanter.
Quran [10:2]

He (SAW) was a man and that gave him (SAW) the power of choice, of free will. Like previous prophets, the prophet (SAW) could also fall to the plans of the devil, like Adam (AS) or Yunus (AS), but Allah had promised something else.

He said: My Lord! because Thou hast made life evil to me, I will certainly make (evil) fair-seeming to them on earth, and I will certainly cause them all to deviate. Except Thy servants from among them, the devoted ones. He said: This is a right way with Me: Surely. as regards My servants, you have no authority ,over them except those who follow you of the deviators.
Quran [15:39-42]

Nothing is possible without the will and authority of Allah. Ismat of Muhammad (SAW) depends on the will of Allah and Allah protected his Prophet (SAW) from mistakes and sins which people like you and me commit day in day out.

Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter? And find you lost (unrecognized by men) and guide (them to you)? And find you in want and make you to be free from want?
Quran [93:6-8]

I swear by the star when it goes down. Your companion does not err, nor does he (Muhammad) go astray; Nor does he speak out of desire. It is naught but revelation that is revealed,
Quran [53:1-4]

If Muhammad (SAW) made a mistake, he (SAW) would have perished. Keeping in mind Quran [53:1-4] posted above, all that he (SAW) was a revelation revealed to him (SAW).

And if he (Muhammad) had fabricated against Us some of the sayings. We would certainly have seized him by the right hand, Then We would certainly have cut off his aorta. And not one of you could have withheld Us from him.
Quran [69:44-47]

Nothing is bigger than Allah and none has more authority than him. Allah states that if he (SAW) fabricated any of the sayings no one could have saved him (SAW). We must remember that Muhammad (SAW) was a human and had free will. But he was protected by Allah and that is why Muhammad (SAW) was an infallible because Allah willed him to be one. That is why Muhammad (SAW) was grateful and had more right to worship Allah because of his bounties on him (SAW).

We should not focus on the mistakes of Prophet (SAW), because we will not find any, and his (SAW) stature is far above it. We should focus on our own forgiveness, not because the prophet (SAW) made mistakes, but because the prophet (SAW) asked for forgiveness as well.

The verse being referred to is

Those who follow (You O Muhammad) the Messenger-Prophet, the Ummi,
whom they find written down with them in the Taurat and the Injeel (who) enjoins them
good and forbids them evil, and makes lawful to them the good things and makes
unlawful to them impure things, and removes from them their burden and the shackles
which were upon them; so (as for) those who believe in him and honor him and help him,
and follow the light which has been sent down with him, these it is that are the
Quran [7:157]

Ibne Kathir, the pioneer of wahabism translates the word Ummi as;

(Those who follow the Messenger, the Prophet who can neither read nor write whom they find written with them in the Tawrah and the Injil,)
Tafseer Ibn Kathir, Tafseer of Surah 7 Verse 157

The prophet (SAW) was an illiterate? God forbid, only as per translations and interpretations of the misguided. Not quoting varios other Sunni literary materials including Tafseer by Maulana Abul Ala Maududi who does not interpret the word ummi as an illiterate but as Gentiles (non-jew pagans).

Our stand is simple. The prophet (SAW) was a human and yet no one taught him to read or write. He (SAW) did not knew how to read or write, and that is why the Quran was an evidence of miracles, a man who can neither read or write brought a book, and not a normal
book, a magnificent book; which means he (SAW) could not steal literary material from other books (and the bible), as many doubted him (SAW) to do so, for the very reason that no one had taught Rasool (SAW) to read or write.

Illiteracy of Muhammad (SAW) was not to degrade him or corrupt his perfection, but to preserve the superiority and perfection of the Quran, that without any doubt, it was not Muhammad's (SAW) handy work.

However, there is a catch.

And were it not for Allah's grace upon you (O Muhammad) and His mercy a party of them (hypocrites) had certainly designed to bring you to perdition and they do not bring (aught) to perdition but their own souls, and they shall not harm you in any way, and Allah has revealed to you the Book and the wisdom, and He has taught you what you did not know, and Allah's grace on you is very great.
Quran [4:113]

I don't know why are people surprise when they think or want to think that Prophet (SAW) could read or write after the revelations? Allah taught his prophet (SAW) what he (SAW) knew not. He (SAW) clearly did not know how to read or write, yet he (SAW) read (the first chronological revelation states);

Read in the name of your Lord Who created. He created man from a clot.
Quran [96:1-2] 

How could the Prophet (SAW) succeed in preserving the Quran in its truest form if he himself (SAW) could not supervise directly what his companions (RA) wrote was exactly as what was revealed to him (SAW)?

People should not be shocked when the Prophet (SAW) asked for a pen and paper to write down something for the Muslims so that they can never go astray.

Sa'id b. Jubair reported that Ibn 'Abbas said: Thursday, (and then said): What is this Thursday? He then wept so much that his tears moistened the pebbles. I said: Ibn 'Abbas, what is (significant) about Thursday? He (Ibn 'Abbas) said: The illness of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) took a serious turn (on this day), and he said: Come to me, so that I should write for you a document that you may not go astray after me. They (the Companions around him) disputed.......
Sahih Muslim, Book 13, Hadith 4014

Do we want to save some one who refused the Prophet (SAW) pen and paper, by trying to prove that he (SAW) could not read nor write? And we think we are Muslims!

They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, and Allah will not consent save to perfect His light, though the unbelievers are averse.
Quran [9:32]

Muhammad (SAW) is the light of Allah, he (SAW) is the guidance. And Allah will perfect his light, despite efforts of his enemies and the disbelievers to put out this light with their cursed mouths.

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